The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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Moderation and Excess Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Faith vs. Religion Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Decameron, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon

The ladies and gentlemen who tell The Decameron’s tales leave Florence to escape an outbreak of the bubonic plague which has profoundly destabilized their society. Their country lifestyle demonstrates the moderation that a functioning society requires. In its exploration of moderation and excess, The Decameron presents excess as always detrimental and moderation as one of the highest virtues.

The excess desire of King Philip II for the Marchioness of Montferrat and the French Princess for Walter threatens political disorder. Excessive sex is physically dangerous, too: Masetto can’t keep up with all the Young Nuns, Alibech exhausts Rustico, and in one of Dioneo’s tales, poor Tingoccio Mini sexes himself to death. Other forms of excess are mocked and punished as well. Excessive drinking allows Perdicone to take advantage of Alatiel; Tofano’s wife, Ghita, exploits his drunkenness to sneak out; and Calandrino’s drunken stupor allows Bruno and Buffalmacco to steal his prize pig. Ermino de’ Grimaldi is criticized for his love of money, while immoderate desire for riches nearly kills Landolfo Rufolo and Martuccio Gomito. Ricciardo Minutolo tricks Catella into sex by preying on her excessive jealousy of her husband, and excessive wrath leads to the exiles and deaths of sisters Ninetta, Maddalena, and Bertella and their husbands.

In contrast, moderation is held up as a virtue. Low-born Gilette demonstrates her noble character in part by restoring balance to her estranged husband’s lands. Men who react moderately to their women’s affairs (and rapes)—like King Agilulf and Lisabetta’s Brothers—are praised for their wisdom while men who don’t, like Tofano and Arriguccio, face ridicule. After Pampinea tells the tale of Rinieri’s immoderate revenge against Elena, her peers suggest that less excessive punishment can also be effective, including Zeppa’s exactly reciprocal revenge on Spinelloccio and Ciacco’s on Biondello. Finally, as the company prepares to return to Florence, Panfilo congratulates them on the unfailing and laudable moderation of their lives in the country, and in the Epilogue, Boccaccio explains that moderation is the key to enjoying stories, alcohol, and even fire—all of which are only dangerous in excess.

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Moderation and Excess ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Moderation and Excess appears in each chapter of The Decameron. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Moderation and Excess Quotes in The Decameron

Below you will find the important quotes in The Decameron related to the theme of Moderation and Excess.
Day 1: Introduction Quotes

Swayed by this argument, and sparing no thought for anyone but themselves, large numbers of men and women abandoned their city, their homes, their relatives, their estates and belongings, and headed for the countryside, either in Florentine territory or, better still, abroad. It was as though they imagined that the wrath of God would not unleash this plague against men for their iniquities irrespective of where they happened to be, but would only be aroused against those who found themselves within the city walls; or possibly they assumed that the whole of the population would be exterminated and the city’s last hour had come.

Related Characters: Boccaccio (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

For not only did people die without having many women about them, but a great number departed this life without anyone at all to witness their going. Few indeed were those to whom the lamentations and bitter tears of their relatives were accorded; on the contrary, more often than not bereavement was the signal for laugher and witticisms and general jollification—the art of which the women, having for the most part suppressed their feminine concern for the salvation of the souls of the dead, had learned to perfection.

Related Characters: Boccaccio (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

Accordingly, whether I am here in church or out in the streets or sitting at home, I always feel ill at ease, the more so because it seems to me that no one possessing private means and a place to retreat to is left here apart from ourselves. But even if such people are still to be found, they draw no distinction, as I have frequently seen and heard for myself, between what is honest and what is dishonest; and provided only that they are prompted by their appetites, they will do whatever affords them the greatest pleasure, whether by day or by night, alone or in company. It is not only of lay people that I speak, but also of those enclosed in monasteries, who, having convinced themselves that such behavior is suitable for them and is only unbecoming in others, having broken the rules of obedience and given themselves over to carnal pleasures, thereby thinking to escape and have turned lascivious and dissolute.

Related Characters: Pampinea (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

It is not our foresight, ladies, but rather your own good sense, that has led us to this spot. I know not what you intend to do with your troubles; my own I left inside the city gates when I departed thence a short while ago in your company. Hence you may either prepare to join with me in as much laugher, song, and merriment as your sense of decorum will allow, or else you may give me leave to go back for my troubles and live in the afflicted city.

Related Characters: Dioneo (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 1: Fourth Tale Quotes

One day, about noon, when all the other monks were asleep, he chanced to be taking a solitary stroll round the walls of the monastery, which lay in a very lonely spot, when his eyes came to rest on a strikingly beautiful girl, perhaps some local farmhand’s daughter, who was going about the fields collecting wild herbs. No sooner did he see her than he was fiercely assaulted by carnal desire.

Related Characters: Dioneo (speaker), Young Monk, The Country Girl, Tuscan Abbot
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 2: Third Tale Quotes

The whole company, men and ladies alike, listened with admiration to the adventures of Rinaldo d’Asti, commending his piety and giving thanks to God and Saint Julian, who had come to his rescue in the hour of his greatest need. Nor, moreover, was the lady considered to have acted foolishly (even though nobody openly said so) for the way she had accepted the blessing that God had left on her doorstep. And while everyone was busy talking, with half-suppressed mirth, about the pleasant night the lady had spent, Pampinea […] started planning what to say.

Page Number: 82-83
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 2: Fourth Tale Quotes

The stones he possessed were, he discovered, so valuable and numerous that, even if he sold them at less than their market value, he would be twice as rich as when he had set out. So that, having taken steps to dispose of his gems, he sent, by way of payment for services received, a tidy sum of money to the good woman of Corfu who had fished him out of the sea. And likewise, he sent a further sum to the people at Trani who had given him the new clothes. He was no longer interested in commerce, so he kept the remainder of the money and lived in splendor for the rest of his days.

Related Characters: Lauretta (speaker), Landolfo Rufolo
Related Symbols: Fortune, Gifts
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 3: Introduction Quotes

The sight of this garden, and the perfection of its arrangement, with its shrubs, its streamlets, and the fountain from which they originated, gave so much pleasure … that they all began to maintain that if Paradise were constructed on earth, it was inconceivable that it could take any other form, nor could they imagine any way in which the garden’s beauty could possibly be enhanced … [And] the garden was liberally stocked with as many as a hundred different varieties of perfectly charming animals […] Here were some rabbits emerging from a warren, over there hares were running, elsewhere they could observe some deer lying on the ground, whilst in yet another place young fawns were grazing. And apart from these, they saw numerous harmless creatures of many other kinds, roaming about at leisure as though they were quite tame, all of which greatly added to their already considerable delight.

Related Characters: Boccaccio (speaker)
Related Symbols: Gardens
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 3: Second Tale Quotes

On hearing these words, the King immediately came to the conclusion that the Queen had been taken in by an outward resemblance to his own physique and manner. But he was a wise man, and since neither the Queen nor anybody else appeared to have noticed the deception, he had no hesitation in deciding to keep his own counsel. Many a stupid man would have reacted differently, and exclaimed “It was not I. Who was the man who was here? What happened? Who was it who came?” But this would only have led to complications, upsetting the lady when she was blameless and sowing the seeds of a desire, on her part, to repeat the experience. And besides, by holding his tongue his honor remained unimpaired, whereas if he were to talk he would make himself look ridiculous.

Related Characters: Pampinea (speaker), Agilulf, Theodelinda, Groom
Page Number: 202-203
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 4: First Tale Quotes

Save those tears of yours for a less coveted fate than this of mine, Tancredi, and shed them not for me, for I do not want them. Who ever heard of anyone, other than yourself, who wept on achieving his wishes? But if you still retain some tiny spark of your former love for me, grant me one final gift, and since it displeased you that I should live quietly with Guiscardo in secret, see that my body is publicly laid to rest beside his in whatever spot you choose to cast his remains.

Related Characters: Ghismonda (speaker), Tancredi, Guiscardo
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 5: Ninth Tale Quotes

You are to know, then, that Coppo di Borghese Domenichi, who once used to live in our city and possibly lives there still, one of the most highly respected men of our century, a person worthy of eternal fame, who achieved his position of pre-eminence by dint of his character and abilities rather than by his noble lineage, frequently took pleasure in his declining years in discussing incidents from the past with his neighbors and other folk. In this pastime he excelled all others, for he was far more coherent, possessed a superior memory, and spoke with greater eloquence.

Related Characters: Fiammetta (speaker), Coppo di Borghese Domenichi, Boccaccio
Page Number: 425-426
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 5: Tenth Tale Quotes

And since, as on previous occasions, the task I am about to perform has no other object than to dispel your melancholy, enamoured ladies, and provide you with laughter and merriment, I shall tell you the ensuing tale, for it may well afford enjoyment although its subject matter is not entirely seemly. As you listen, do as you would when you enter a garden, and stretch forth your tender hands to pluck the roses, leaving the thorns where they are. This you will succeed in doing if you leave the knavish husband to his ill desserts and his inequities, whilst you laugh gaily at the amorous intrigues of his wife, pausing where occasion warrants, to commiserate with the woes of her lover.

Related Characters: Dioneo (speaker)
Related Symbols: Gardens
Page Number: 432-433
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 6: Fifth Tale Quotes

Hence, by virtue of the fact that he brought back to light an art which had been buried for centuries beneath the blunders of those who, in their paintings, aimed to bring visual delight to the ignorant rather than intellectual satisfaction to the wise, his work may justly be regarded as a shining monument to the glory of Florence. And all the more so, inasmuch as he set an example to others by wearing his celebrity with utmost modesty, and always refused to be called a master, even though such a title befitted him all the more resplendently in proportion to the eagerness with which it was sought and usurped by those who knew less than himself or by his own pupils. But for all the greatness of his art, neither physically nor facially was he any more handsome than Messer Forese.

Related Characters: Panfilo (speaker), Giotto, Forese da Rabatta
Page Number: 457-458
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 7: Fifth Tale Quotes

And so it was that the jealous wretch, having thought himself very clever in ferreting out his wife’s secret, saw that he had made an ass of himself. Without saying anything by way of reply, he began to look on his wife as a model of intelligence and virtue. And just as he had worn the mantle of the jealous husband when it was unnecessary, he cast it off completely now that his need for it was paramount. So his clever little wife, having, as it were, acquired a license to enjoy herself, no longer admitted her lover by way of the roof as though he were some kind of cat, but showed him in at the front door. And from that day forth, by proceeding with caution, she spent many an entertaining and delightful hour in his arms.

Related Characters: Fiammetta (speaker), Jealous Merchant, Jealous Merchant’s Wife
Page Number: 513
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 7: Eighth Tale Quotes

God in heaven, you think he had picked you up out of the gutter! […] These country yokels, they move into town after serving as cut-throat to some petty rustic tyrant, and wander about the streets in rags and tatters, their trousers all askew, with a quill sticking out from their backsides, and no sooner do they get a few pence in their pockets than they want the daughters of noble gentlemen and fine ladies for their wives. And they devise a coat of arms for themselves and go about saying: “I belong to such-and-such a family” and “My people did so-and-so.”

Page Number: 531
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 8: Sixth Tale Quotes

Calandrino is a mean sort of fellow, who’s very fond of drinking when other people pay. So let’s go and take him to the tavern, where the priest can pretend to play the host to the rest of us and pay for all the drinks. When he sees that he has nothing to pay, Calandrino will drink himself into a stupor, and then the rest will be plain sailing because there’s no one else staying at the house.

Everything turned out as Bruno had predicted. When Calandrino saw that the priest would not allow him to pay, he began to drink like a fish, and quaffed a great deal more than he needed to make him drunk.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Calandrino, Buffalmacco, Filomena
Page Number: 580
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 8: Seventh Tale Quotes

Feeling somewhat aggrieved that things had not worked out as the scholar had told her, she said to herself: “I strongly suspect that he was trying to give me a night like the one I provided for him; but if that was his intention, he’s chosen a feeble way of avenging himself, for the night he spent was at least three times as long, and the cold was far more severe.” But as she had no desire to be found up there in broad daylight, now prepared to descend, only to discover that the ladder had gone.

Related Characters: Pampinea (speaker), Elena, Rinieri
Page Number: 597
Explanation and Analysis:

But even supposing I were a charitable man, you are not the sort of woman who deserves to be treated with charity. For a savage beast of your sort, death is the only fit punishment, the only just revenge, though admittedly, had I been dealing with a human being I should already have done enough […] I intend to harry you with all the hatred and all the strength of a man who is fighting his oldest enemy.

...it was not for lack of trying that you failed to murder a gentleman (as you called me just now), who can bring more benefit to humanity in a single day than a hundred thousand women of your sort can bring to it for as long as the world shall last.

Related Characters: Rinieri (speaker), Elena
Page Number: 600
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 10: Third Tale Quotes

Fear me not, then, and rest assured that in view of the loftiness of your motives, no other living person loves you as greatly as I, for you do not devote your energies to the accumulation of riches, as misers do, but to spending what you have amassed. Nor should you feel ashamed for having wanted to kill me to acquire fame, or imagine that I marvel to hear it. In order to extend their dominions, and hence their fame, the mightiest emperors and greatest kings have practiced virtually no other art than that of killing, not just one person as you intended, but countless thousands, setting whole provinces ablaze and razing whole cities to the ground.

Related Characters: Nathan (speaker), Mithridanes, Filostrato
Page Number: 716
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 10: Eighth Tale Quotes

Friendship, then, is a most sacred thing, not only worthy of singular reverence, but eternally to be praised as the deeply discerning mother of probity and munificence, the sister of gratitude and charity, and the foe of hatred and avarice, ever ready, without waiting to be asked, to do virtuously unto others that which it would wish to be done unto itself. But very seldom in this day and age do we find two persons in whom its hallowed effects may be seen, this being the fault of men’s shameful and miserly greed, which, being solely concerned with seeking its own advantage, has banished friendship to perpetual exile beyond earth’s farthest limits.

Related Characters: Filomena (speaker), Titus Quintus Fulvius, Gisippus
Page Number: 763
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 10: Conclusion Quotes

For as far as I have been able to observe, albeit the tales related here have been amusing, perhaps of a sort to stimulate carnal desire, and we have continually partaken of excellent food and drink, played music, and sung many songs, all of which may encourage unseemly behavior among those who are of feeble mind, neither in word nor in deed nor in any other respect have I known either you or ourselves to be worthy of censure. On the contrary, from what I have seen and heard, it seems to me that our proceedings have been marked by a constant sense of propriety, an unfailing spirit of harmony, and a continual feeling of brotherly and sisterly amity. All of which pleases me greatly, as it surely redounds to our communal honor and credit.

Related Characters: Panfilo (speaker)
Page Number: 795-796
Explanation and Analysis:
Author’s Epilogue Quotes

Like all other things in this world, stories, whatever their nature, may be harmful or useful, depending upon the listener. Who will deny that wine, as Tosspot and Bibler and a great many others affirm, is an excellent thing for those who are hale and hearty, but harmful to people suffering from a fever? Are we to conclude, because it does harm to the feverish, that therefore it is pernicious? Who will deny that fire is exceedingly useful, not to say vital, to men and women? Are we to conclude, because it burns down houses and villages and whole cities, that therefore it is pernicious? And in the same way, weapons defend the liberty of those who desire to live peaceably, and very often they kill people not because they are evil in themselves, but because of the evil intentions of those who make use of them.

Related Characters: Boccaccio (speaker)
Page Number: 799
Explanation and Analysis:

I confess that I do have weight, and in my time I have been weighed on numerous occasions; but I assure those ladies who have never weighed me that I have little gravity. On the contrary, I am so light that I float on the surface of the water. And considering that sermons preached by friars to chastise the faults of men are nowadays filled, for the most part, with jests and quips and raillery, I concluded that the same sort of thing would not be out of place in my stories, written to dispel the woes of ladies. But if it should cause them to laugh too much, they can easily find a remedy by turning to the Lament of Jeremiah, the Passion of Our Lord, and the Plaint of the Magdalen.

Related Characters: Boccaccio (speaker)
Page Number: 801-802
Explanation and Analysis: